Background: The possibility of a rural and urban difference in the prevalence of major depression has been of interest to researchers and mental health service providers. The objectives of this analysis were to determine the rural and urban difference in the 12-month prevalence of major depressive episode(s) (MDE) in Canada and whether participants in rural and urban areas differed in the impairment levels due to depressive symptoms and in mental health service utilization.
Methods: Data from the 1998-1999 Canadian National Population Health Survey (NPHS) were used in this study. In the NPHS, MDE was measured by the Composite International Diagnostic Interview-Short Form for Major Depression. Two-week disability and daily life interference due to depressive symptoms were used as indicators of impairment in this analysis. The prevalence of MDE in rural and urban areas, at national and regional levels, was calculated. The association between urbanicity and MDE was evaluated by Odds Ratios, controlling for potential confounders. Impairment levels and mental health service utilization were also compared between the rural and urban groups.
Results: NPHS participants in rural areas had a lower prevalence of MDE than those in urban areas, controlling for the effects of race, immigration status, working status and marital status. Non-immigrants and those who are white in rural areas had a lower prevalence of MDE than did those in urban areas, and such differences depended on age and geographic regions. Rural and urban participants did not differ in 2-week disability and daily life interference due to depressive symptoms. However, rural participants were less likely to have contacted health professionals for mental health problems.
Conclusions: The reasons for the rural and urban differences in the prevalence of MDE are complex. This may depend on individuals' age, immigration status, race, working status, marital status and the provinces where they live. These differences should be considered in future mental health service planning, particularly at provincial levels. There may be gaps between rural and urban areas in terms of availability of mental health services. This should be addressed in future studies and in mental health service planning.